Monadnock Hike & Bike (and the Scouts BSA)

 

Last weekend’s trip to Mount Monadnock and Monadnock State Park was awesome. It was the “capstone” trip/event of Debbie’s career as our son’s Den Leader.

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We have been involved with Bolton Cub Scouts Pack 157, and Den 5, for the last five years. Our involvement in Scouts won’t stop. Next month, Shepard will earn his Arrow of Light and move on to Boy Scouts Troop 25 in Manchester. He will start his journey towards Eagle Scout. Two of my first cousins, Brian and Tim Nelson, are Eagle Scouts/alumnus from Troop 25.

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I’m also an Eagle Scout (1988) and am a product of Troop 11 in Vernon. It’s likely that our daughter will continue with Scouts, but transition from the Girl Scouts of the USA  to the “boy’s side.” I’m a step or two behind on the new rules of the Boy Scouts of America (now known as Scouts BSA), but I’ll get up to speed soon. They made some big moves in the past 18 months to get with the times. It will be interesting to see if the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts (Scouts BSA) remain relevant for the next generation and beyond.

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Five years ago, I wrote about the Boy Scouts in this blog post, where I shared a letter that written to the corporate leadership challenging  them to be more inclusive. For more than 20 years, I kept my distance from the Boy Scouts and their exclusionary policies, but five years ago, my son’s involvement was on the horizon, and I was conflicted about getting involved. I wanted him to experience Scouting and the skills that it teaches. I attribute Scouts for my love of the environment, my role in conservation organizations including the Appalachian Mountain Club and Connecticut Forest & Park Association; and my zest for outdoor adventure.

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This post is less about the politics of Scouting and more about the joy of hiking (and biking). Debbie put together the Monadnock trip for her Den and in addition to our son and daughter, three other boys and their fathers participated. I hadn’t been to the summit of Monadnock in years, though we have been to the area many times. We were last there in 2016 for the Wapack and Back Trail Race. We (both of us) also ran it in 2014. In both cases, we were on Pack Monadnock, a nearby mountain, but didn’t make it to Grand Monadnock.

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I think the last time we were on Grand Monadnock was like 15 years ago. Maybe more. Prior to that, I had climbed the mountain a few times with friends from Team Horst Sports. Even before that, I climbed it solo when I was in college. It really is a great mountain. It’s one of the most frequently climbed in the world. It’s reported that Mt. Fuji in Japan is the only mountain climbed more often.

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We drove up on Saturday morning. The overnight showers cleared and by the time we started our hike, the weather was gorgeous. The summit was crowded, as you would expect for the best weather of this wet spring. The kids had a blast, and the parents were able to keep pace. We lingered on the summit and then returned to the state park where we set up camp. We spent the night, which was fun. It turned out to be a wet one as the rain moved in again.

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The four of us woke up in our tent with many leaks. Debbie has been talking about an upgrade, but our 20-year-old four person tent has done us well…until recently. After we got up, we didn’t linger. I had previously hatched a plan to ride my bicycle home from Monadnock, but the steady rain was a blow to my morale. I waffled about the ride, but eventually declared that I was doing it. We packed everything but the tent, saving it for last. I pulled my bike out of the car where I had stashed it for the night, and parked it under an overhang.

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Once we got the tent down, I changed in the car, working up the courage to start a long ride in the pouring (cold) rain. The temperature was in the low-40’s Fahrenheit, which can be the worst kind of weather to ride in. If you stop for a moment, hypothermia will set in. I think that risk is partially what motivated me to go for it rather than joining the family in the car for the 100 or so miles home.

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My math said I could get home in about seven hours if I averaged close to 15 miles per hour. The route would have more downhill than up, but there would be enough up and down to challenge me. I had my Seven Axiom SL super-commuter, which is my favorite bike. I took off the panniers, but kept the rear rack, fenders, and front pack. This is the bike I ride to/from work and I just love it. It isn’t the lightest road bike, but it’s my most versatile bike.

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In the end, the fenders only helped a little. The family rolled out of the parking lot five minutes before I did. I was on my own. I coasted down the hill to the entrance of the park. I stopped and took my only photo of the day. I turned my iPhone off to save the battery should I really need it. I tucked it in my pocket and that’s where it stayed until I reached Stafford Springs, Connecticut nearly six and a half hours later.

10 minutes into the ride and I was already soaked to the bone and chilled. Somewhere in that first segment of the ride, I missed a turn on to Rt. 119, which would take me to Rt. 32, the main route for the day. I was already cold and miserable, so I just kept riding until I recognized a road. I sensed that I was going the wrong way and that was confirmed when I saw signs for Keene, which is northwest of Monadnock. I needed to go southwest, and then due south on 32. I stubbornly rode towards Keene until I found the main drag. Eventually, I turned left, in the direction of south, and rode until I found the airport south of town. From there, I just used my gut to navigate. Eventually, I found 32.

Nearly 90 minutes had passed before I finally came to the 119 intersection. I figured I had added 20 miles to the ride and that was a real bummer. By the time I crossed the Massachusetts line, I was frozen and struggling to keep my handlebars straight on the steep descents. Some of the heaviest rain hit me in between Royalston and Athol. I was wearing my eyeglasses, but eyes were so cold and wet that I felt blinded and it was hard to see when descending. It was a bit sketchy, but I forged on knowing that if I stopped for even a minute that it could spell disaster. Long point to point rides with no support in these conditions leaves no room for mistakes. That’s why I was having “fun.”

32 goes from New Hampshire all the way through Massachusetts and then on to Connecticut, so once I was on 32, I knew where to go. All I had to do was pedal and keep on 32, which was by no means a straight line. It jogged left and right and cut through small towns as it worked its way south, skirting to the east of the Quabbin Reservoir. You can see the route on my Strava feed if we are connected. Speaking of the Quabbin, the last time I was this cold on a bicycle was seven years ago at the 2011 Quabbin Reservoir Classic, which I wrote about.  Excerpts from my post were published along with the stories of three other riders from that race, in the now defunct 9W Magazine, a literary/cycling journal.

Thankfully, the temperature was a bit warmer last Sunday, and despite the pouring rain, I hung in there. I didn’t eat much. I had a Clif Bar and a banana. Eventually, I stopped in Stafford Springs after the rain had stopped, but only had a coconut water and a Naked juice. I burned more than 3,000 calories while only taking in 600 or so. My only wardrobe issue was that I forgot my booties. My feet were very cold. The booties wouldn’t have kept them dry, but they would have added insulation. I also wished I had a warmer pair of gloves, but it likely wouldn’t have made that much of a difference. I carried a lighter weight second set of gloves, and eventually switched to them when the rain had tapered off.

The stretch through Massachusetts was diverse. As I rode south through Royalston, Athol, Petersham, and Barre; I enjoyed the solitude. That section of 32 is beautiful and less congested than the southern section. It brought back memories of some of the great western Massachusetts road races that I did in the 1990’s including the Hubbardston-Barre Road Race. My old teammate, Will Kirousis, hails from Petersham, and we visited his home many times in those years.

I pushed on. The stretch of road from Ware, through Palmer, into Monson, and then Stafford Springs, was the worst. The Sunday afternoon traffic was bad and unfortunately, I had several run-ins with motorists. I kept my patience, but was “coal rolled” three separate times. These huge jacked up pickup trucks pulled up next to me, and then jammed on their accelerators, belching putrid exhaust into my face as their engines roared and they pulled away. It’s such a cowardly thing to do, but sadly common for “boys” who I dub Swamp Yankees (a New England version of “yahoo”). There were many other inconsiderate motorists who left me with a lot less than the recommended/mandatory 18 inches of space.

In Stafford Springs, a huge GMC Suburban pulled up next to me and the passenger (a woman) hung out the window and yelled at me to “move over.” I completely understand if cyclists avoid roads altogether. The situation has clearly gotten worse and its dangerous.

By the time I got to Stafford Springs, I was cracked. Thankfully, a cool wind had blown the rain out of the area. It was still overcast and cold, but I was a bit warmer, so I stopped at a Cumberland Farms to message Debbie and buy the juice. I had gone six hours and not even drank half a bottle of water. I was fine, but still enjoyed stopping to hydrate. Amazingly, I avoided any serious chaffing on the whole ride. I hadn’t ridden that far since my 132 mile Vermont Six Gaps Ride in 2016, also on my Axiom SL.

Last Sunday’s ride ended up being 119.9 miles and it took me eight hours and four minutes of moving time to get it done. I was very happy to get home. Debbie asked me why I didn’t ride another .01 miles to get an even 120, but then I told her about the missed turn and 20 mile Keene diversion, and she understood why I was ready to be done. I doubt my GPS is that accurate anyway!

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Last weekend’s dual adventures were awesome. Every so often, I need these long solo rides to sooth my soul. It’s hard to explain the feeling, but I tune out and spend time with my own thoughts. I hatch business plans, think about goals, and zone out. My subconscious takes over and I enjoy the moment, even if it involves suffering.

Some of my first big adventures started when I was in the Scouts. It’s great to share my adventures with my own kids and their friends. I have no doubt that they will inherit my love for the outdoors, hiking, and biking.

 

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